Magna Carta - Magna Cum Laude


Magna Carta established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guarantees the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial

Eight hundred years ago, on June 15, 1215, a document guaranteeing political liberties came into being known as Magna Carta – the Great Charter, and the rest is history.

Rightly referred as the foundation of British constitutionalism and one of the great landmarks of Western civilisation, Magna Carta was drafted at Runnymede, the meadow on the banks of the Thames, by the barons, with encouragement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, which was approved by the erratic and unscrupulous King of England John Lackland.

Magna Carta has historical and legal significance, and is a cornerstone of the individual liberties that we enjoy. The Great Charter underlines the rule of law and accountability. In fact, Magna Carta is the first giant step towards the establishment of parliamentary democracy in England.

That imprisonment should not occur without due legal process is one of the key provisions in the 1215 Charter. It established the idea of trial by jury. Clause 39 of the 1215 Charter states that: “No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned … or exiled or in any way ruined … except by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” The principle of the rule of law and protection of individuals from arbitrary punishment owe a lot to that day in 1215.

Being the foundation of accountability, liberty, and popular democracy, Magna Carta continues to be of great relevance.

Decoding Magna Carta

Magna Carta established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guarantees the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.

Written in Latin, the original Magna Carta had 63 clauses. However, today only three of these remain on the statute books:

One defends the liberties and rights of the English Church; another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns

The third gives all English subjects the right to justice and a fair trial: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

What Led to Magna Carta

Following the uprising of a group of rebel barons in England in 1215, King John agreed to the terms of the Magna Carta. The barons captured London in May 1215, forcing King John to finally negotiate with the group.

Showing the Way

Democracy, liberty, accountability and freedom in any part of the world draw from the basic principles of the Magna Carta. Whether it be the American Bill of Rights of 1791 or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, Magna Cart has its indelible imprint.

The writ of habeas corpus is among the most important rules from Magna Carta that we still use today, which means that the government can’t arrest people without cause or in secret, thereby guaranteeing the right to due process.

India - A Powerful Guarantor of Magna Carta

Thanks to its implications and legacy, Magna Carta has find resonance across the globe. The principles of Magna Carta are well enshrined within the constitution of the world’s largest democracy. India, with a population of over 1.2 billion people, is a powerful guarantor of Magna Carta principles.

800 Years and Counting

Wherever and whenever freedom is under threat, the principles of Magna Carta will save the day. Eight hundred years on, Magna Carta continues to be a guiding light while ensuring that rulers remain accountable to whom they rule.

Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Magna Carta is a sine qua non for a civilised society, governed by rules and norms. The 13th-century document is important because it placed limits on authority, and made clear that nobody is above the law.

Written on parchment made from dried sheepskin, the idea of Magna Carta gathered momentum over the course of 800 years. The Great Charter has assumed a greater authority in respect of the central key clauses concerning liberty and justice. Referred as 38 and 39, the central clauses have stood the test of time.

In the US, the Magna Carta is considered as a foundation to America’s Constitution and Bill of Rights.

“In this field [Runnymede] were born precepts that made possible the United States Constitution, the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the framework of justice in America, the United Kingdom, and much of the world,” the American Bar Association President William C Hubbard said in a written statement.

“The Magna Carta had altered forever the balance of power between the governed and government. What happened 800 years ago is as relevant today as it was then. Its remaining copies may be faded but its principles shine brighter than ever,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, called for an Internet Magna Carta to “protect and expand the rights of users to an open, free and universal web.”

Those who live in democracies

and those who don’t, both look up to Magna Carta, which is an effective instrument in making the world a better place to live.

Rulers, be Reasonable

The message from 1215 onwards is loud and clear: All human authorities are limited – by the Law of God and the Law of Nature. The powers of those who govern are limited, and not absolute. It has sown the seeds of democracy 800 years ago and maintained that people, in every nook and corner of the world, have a right to expect reasonable conduct from the rulers who govern them.

Magna Carta is a chronicle of how we live, through equality under the rule of law and through accountability. It matters. Period.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.